Archive for April, 2012

Demonstration of KPA Unit 655

Monday, April 30th, 2012

On April 27th, KCNA reported that Kim Jong-un “guided general tactical exercises of KPA Combined Unit 655 held on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the KPA.” NK Leadership Watch wrote about the demonstration here. Just by chance, I recognized the facility and was able to pinpoint it on Google Earth. This  is rarely so easy.

Pictured above, the KPA observation facility (Google Earth:  38.948016°, 125.916006°) in Sadong-guyok (사동구역).

The building sits on top of a small mountain, and according to the Google Earth ruler, it  is approximately 50m x 32m (at its widest). The oldest satellite image available of the facility (on Google Earth) dates to 2003-12-25. There are several support facilities located nearby, but I do not have any specific information on them.

Here is a layout of the facility in relation to the target area (Google Earth):

According to the Google Earth ruler, the observation facility is approximately 3km from the most distant portion of the test grounds.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this test is that an elite residential compound lies just on the other side of the mountains from the artillery testing area (about 1km away)! Who would have ever thought they would detonate explosives and projectiles so close to one of these compounds? Perhaps the presence of the elite residential compound explains why this observation facility has not been used for as long as I can remember (which admittedly is not a long time ago).

I have located several KPA demonstration areas on Google Earth and will include them in the next version of North Korea Uncovered, hopefully out in the next couple of months.


KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Rain ruined my plans this Saturday morning, so I thought I would play around on Google Earth. Today’s target: the newly completed KPA Exhibition of Arms and Equipment in Pyongyang.

Pictured above (KCNA): Kim Jong-un formally opens the exhibition. Pyongyang Times coverage here and here (PDF).

It is located in Mangyongdae-guyok and is sandwiched between the Kim Il-sung Military University and the Sosan Sports District. The Google Earth imagery of the facility is too old to show the completed structure, but there is enough construction to be positive about the location. Below, I have used Google Earth to draw out more of the facility using North Korean video footage:

The work I did on the image above is based on video footage of Kim Jong-un’s visit.  You can see the video footage here. If there is anyone out there who is trained to identify North Korean military equipment, I would like to know more about what is on display here.

Visitors to the exhibit can peruse all sorts of armored vehicles, airplanes, artillery, and navy equipment. There is space for an open air orchestra and choir to perform. There is also a small train ride that travels around the exhibit giving riders the chance to get a quick glance of the KPA’s military machines as they pass by.

The video taken of the facility shows that at least some foreign visitors were welcomed to see the museum.  This begs the question of whether foreign tourists in general will be allowed to inspect the KPA machinery and whether they will be allowed to take pictures of it. Maybe there is even a bar?

According to the Google Earth calculations, the main exhibit hall is 117m x 73m. The second exhibit hall is 77m x 60m.

Previously, this plot of land was occupied by a football field and the remains of the long-defunct Pyongyang Baseball/Softball stadium.



Friday Fun: A little bit of everything

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

1. What if the story of Sin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hui was combined with Laura Ling and Euna Lee…and it was a comedy?

Click image to watch trailer

2. Satellite photo of the military parade in Pyongyang (via AP):

These sorts of events are practiced at the KPA facility in Mirim.

3. Watch North Korean movies (with subtitles)–YouTube

4. Learn North Korean (Defense Language Institute)

5. North Korean tractor simulator. It appears to be more sophisticated than an actual North Korean tractor!

6. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaușescu. In addition to great Kim Il-sung / Ceausescu footage, there is an amazing scene at the 1hr 59min mark where Constantin Pîrvulescu denounces Ceausescu’s abuse of party procedures.  According to Wikipedia:

In November 1979, at the 12th Party Congress, he took the floor advocating against the re-election of Ceauşescu to the party leadership, accusing him of putting personal interests ahead of those of party and nation. He also accused the congress of neglecting the country’s real problems, being preoccupied in glorifying Ceauşescu.[1] This unprecedented attack came from a man who was a lifelong communist, with a lifelong association with Soviet-style communism (he was the only member of the Central Committee to oppose Khrushchev’s withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1958). Likewise, being 84 years of age, personal ambitions could not be a motivating factor for this speech. Thus, the Western press considered his remarks to be proof of dissatisfaction within the Party’s ranks. Pîrvulescu was kicked out of the room, stripped of his position as delegate to the congress and placed under strict supervision and house arrest.


Army Founding Day a source of stress

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

According tot he Daily NK:

The North Korean authorities have called on the people to provide supplies for care packages to be given to military units on People’s Army Foundation Day, which falls today. It is not a new burden, but is relatively larger this year, according to a source.

The source from Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province told the Daily NK yesterday, “The people feel seriously burdened by the project going on nationwide to gather support supplies ahead of the military holiday. Each household is required to offer up towels, soap, toothpaste, socks and underwear.”

“Usually they collect around 1,000 won from each family, but this year they told us to give 10,000 won,” the source went on. “Since even providing food for the family is not easy, many people are playing a waiting game on this.”

The source explained that societal organizations (the Union of Democratic Women, General Federation of Korean Trade Unions etc) have also been gathering care packages for delivery to local military units by ‘People’s Delegations’ consisting of municipal and county Party cadres.

“Middle school classes are also suspended while students prepare and perform ‘People’s Army Comfort Concerts’ at art centers and in military camps, and the Union of Democratic Women are preparing art performances,” she added.

Problematically, the various April holidays also mean that markets are closed more often than normal, and this is driving down household incomes.

For the Day of the Sun, the markets were closed from the 14th through the 17th. The markets are also closed today for Army Foundation Day today. Moreover, they were also closed on the day Kim Jong Eun was elevated to 1st Secretary and the day of the mass rally organized to denounce the Lee Myung Bak administration, to name but two.

As such, the source concluded, “April is a hectic month. Aside from the fact that the people are exhausted because of the pressure from the authorities their income has dropped by around half so many will likely end up in debt.”

Read the full story here:
Army Founding Day a Source of Stress
Daily NK
Choi Song Min


Phyongsong restaurant street opens

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012


Phyongsong  restaurant street: (L) via Google Earth (R) via Rodong Sinmun

According to KCNA:

New Street of Restaurants Built in S. Phyongan Province

Pyongyang, April 24 (KCNA) — A street of restaurants was newly built in the Jungdok area in Phyongsong City, South Phyongan Province of the DPRK.

There include houses serving casserole, noodle, tangogi soup and entrails soup. A meat shop was also built there, making it possible to improve the people’s diet.

The street is decorated with peculiar display of colorful light.

The restaurant street was featured on the evening news on April 16.

There are at least two other “Restaurant Streets” in the DPRK: Changwang Street in Pyongyang and Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province.


South urges DPRK agricultural reforms

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

According to Yonhap:

President Lee Myung-bak on Friday urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to give up the collective farm system and privatize state-owned agricultural land to help enrich the North and its residents.

“North Korea should abandon its collective farm system and shift to the privatization of agricultural land. If so, rice will be abundant in two to three years. Farmland privatization will help individuals earn more and the state increase revenues,” Lee was quoted by his spokesman Park Jeong-ha as saying in the lecture.

“(Farmland reform) is a must for North Korea. All the young leader has to do is the (reform). It is the most urgent matter and has to precede its market opening. Continued dependence on aid will only produce beggars.”

President Lee’s statement stresses the short-term economic benefits of moving away from collective farming: More food, higher incomes to farmers, improved fiscal position, and thus, increased political legitimacy for the Kim Jong-un government. However, from a political and strategic viewpoint he is probably hoping that North Korean agricultural reform will pave the way for broader economic reforms — as was the case in China. However, it is worth noting that China’s agricultural reforms, which ended the misery of the Great Leap Forward and laid the foundation for broader economic reforms, were not created in Beijing.  They were developed and implemented by a single village of scared, hungry farmers:

Pictured above (via Marginal Revolution): Farmers from 18 households in Xiaogang village (Fenyang County, Anhui Province) signed this contract bringing a de facto (not de jure) end to collective farming.

Economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok said the following of the Xiaogang Contract:

The Great Leap Forward was a great leap backward – agricultural land was less productive in 1978 than it had been in 1949 when the communists took over. In 1978, however, farmers in the village of Xiaogang held a secret meeting. The farmers agreed to divide the communal land and assign it to individuals – each farmer had to produce a quota for the government but anything he or she produced in excess of the quota they would keep. The agreement violated government policy and as a result the farmers also pledged that if any of them were to be killed or jailed the others would raise his or her children until the age of 18.

The change from collective property rights to something closer to private property rights had an immediate effect, investment, work effort and productivity increased. “You can’t be lazy when you work for your family and yourself,” said one of the farmers.

Word of the secret agreement leaked out and local bureaucrats cut off Xiaogang from fertilizer, seeds and pesticides. But amazingly, before Xiaogang could be stopped, farmers in other villages also began to abandon collective property. In Beijing, Mao Zedong was dead and a new set of rulers, seeing the productivity improvements, decided to let the experiment proceed.

The rapid increase in China-DPRK trade and information exchanges raises the question of just how many North Koreans have heard of the Xiaogang contract or how many villages have implemented similar measures?

For its part, the Workers Party has employed a mixture of both top-down agricultural policies and accommodation of bottom-up economic innovations to increase food availability. From a top-down perspective, the DPRK has promoted “technological inputs” (fertilizer production, terraced hillsides, large irrigation projects, land reclamation, land rezoning, new foodstuff factories, improved management techniques, CNC) and multilateral aid outreach (official and private food aid from abroad). From a bottom-up perspective, the DPRK has offered and expanded economic incentives (kitchen/private plots, farmers’ markets, general markets, July 2002 Measures, 8.3 Measures, accommodation of some illegal activity,  family-based work team units on collective farms).  The combination of all these efforts, however, has obviously not resulted in food security–for a number of reasons that are too  lengthy for a simple blog post.

If you are interested in learning more about the DPRK’s agricultural policies, I have posted below some papers (PDF) covering different stages in the North Korean agriculture sector: Pre-war, post war (collectivization), and post famine (arduous march). They are all well worth reading:

1. Lee Chong-Sik, “Land Reform, Collectivisation and the Peasants in North Korea”, The China Quarterly, No. 14 (Apr. – Jun., 1963), pp. 65-81

2. Yoon T. Kuark, “North Korea’s Agricultural Development during the Post-War Period”, The China Quarterly, No. 14 (Apr. – Jun., 1963), pp. 82-93

3. Andrei Lankov, Seok Hyang Kim, Inok Kwak, “Relying on One’s Strength: The Growth of the Private Agriculture in Borderland Areas of North Korea”


China donates Kim Jong-suk statue to DPRK

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

UPDATE 1 (2012-4-25): Better late than never!  The statue of Kim Jong-suk has finally been unveiled. According to KCNA:

A hall where stands a wax replica of anti-Japanese war hero Kim Jong Suk was opened at the International Friendship Exhibition House of the DPRK.

Standing in the hall is a wax replica depicting woman commander of anti-Japanese guerillas Kim Jong Suk in uniform of the anti-Japanese guerrilla army on the table land full of azaleas in full bloom against the background of Mt. Paektu.

The gifts she received from personages and people of various countries are on display there.

An opening ceremony took place on Tuesday.

Present there were Kim Ki Nam and Choe Thae Bok, members of the Political Bureau and secretaries of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, and others.

Present there on invitation were staff members of the Chinese embassy here and the chief of the hall of wax replicas of great persons in China and his party.

Choe Thae Bok expressed deep thanks to personages of the Chinese hall for representing the wax replica of Kim Jong Suk.

He said the noble life of Kim Jong Suk was the most brilliant one of an outstanding woman revolutionary.

Zhang Molei, chief of the hall, in his speech bitterly grieved over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il, saying it was their wish to successfully represent the wax replica of Kim Jong Suk so they could please leader Kim Jong Il.

Expressing the will to do more things to contribute to the building of thriving socialist nation in the DPRK, he expressed belief that the Korean people would overcome difficulties and win great victory under the leadership of the dear respected Kim Jong Un.

The participants paid tribute to Kim Jong Suk and looked round the gifts on display.

You can see video of the unveiling here (KCNAYouTube).

ORIGINAL POST (20120-10-19): According to the Korea Times:

China plans to send North Korea a life-size statue of Kim Jong-il’s biological mother as a gift, a local newspaper said, citing a North Korean document.

The waxwork statue of Kim Jong-sook, reportedly proposed by Kim Jong-il and accepted by China, will be shipped to the North in early December, Dong-a Ilbo said Saturday.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the marriage between Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea, and Kim Jong-sook.

The project will be carried out by the China Waxwork Museum for Great Figures, which in the past also built famous Chinese individuals such as Mao Zedong and Jiang Zemin, the report said.

The North Korean Embassy in Beijing thanked the museum for carrying out the task which will “further enhance ties between the peoples of the two countries,” the report said, citing a North Korean embassy document dated July 15, which it obtained.

The newspaper didn’t say how it obtained the document.

Once completed, the statue will be sent to North Korea by a 10-member Chinese delegation and will be placed next to the wax statue of Kim Il-sung, which was also donated by China in 1996, it said.

Read the full story here:
China to donate statue of Kim Jong-il’s mother
Korea Times


Lankov on the evolution of personal income in the DPRK

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Andrei Lankov writes on the history and evolution of personal income in the DPRK. According to his article in the Asia Times:

When one talks about virtually any country, wages and salaries are one of the most important things to be considered. How much does a clerk or a doctor, a builder or a shopkeeper earn there? What is their survival income, and above what level can a person be considered rich?

Such questions are pertinent to impoverished North Korea, but this is the Hermit Kingdom, so answering such seemingly simple questions creates a whole host of problems.

We could look first at official salaries but this is not easy since statistics on this are never published in North Korea. Nonetheless, it is known from reports of foreign visitors and sojourners that in the 1970s and 1980s, most North Koreans earned between 50 to 100 won per month, with 70 won being the average salary.

Read more below…


North Korea redefines ‘minimum’ wage

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Andrei Lankov writes in the Asia Times:

When one talks about virtually any country, wages and salaries are one of the most important things to be considered. How much does a clerk or a doctor, a builder or a shopkeeper earn there? What is their survival income, and above what level can a person be considered rich?

Such questions are pertinent to impoverished North Korea, but this is the Hermit Kingdom, so answering such seemingly simple questions creates a whole host of problems.

Read the full story below:



NKIDP: New Romanian evidence on the Blue House eaid and the USS Pueblo incident

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

According to the Wilson Center’s North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP):

NKIDP is pleased to announce the release of e-Dossier No. 5, “New Romanian Evidence on the Blue House Raid and the USS Pueblo Incident” and the addition of 28 new documents to its online Digital Archive.

The e-Dossier contains 28 translated documents from Romanian archives on two of the most serious flashpoints since the signing of the 1953 Korean War Armistice: the failed North Korean commando attack and attempted assassination of Park Chung Hee on January 21, 1968, commonly known as the Blue House Raid, and North Korea’s seizure of an American intelligence vessel, the USS Pueblo, on January 23, 1968.

The Romanian documents open an exciting new window into socialist bloc policies and perspectives on the Blue House Raid and the Pueblo crisis.

The e-Dossier features introductions from Mitchell Lerner, associate professor of history and director of the Institute for Korean Studies at The Ohio State University and author of The Pueblo Incident: A Spy Ship and the Failure of American Foreign Policy (University of Kansas Press, 2002), and Jong-Dae Shin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Click here to read “New Romanian Evidence on the Blue House Raid and the USS Pueblo Incident” in full